ELIZABETH — Federal authorities have filed a lawsuit accusing a city landlord who rented to low-income residents of demanding sex from residents on multiple occasions in exchange for assistance.

The sexual harassment complaint filed by the Department of Justice in U.S. District Court in Newark named Joseph Centanni, who authorities said owns numerous properties in and around the city of Elizabeth ranging in size from four to 100 units.

Centanni receives about $102,000 every month from the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8.

His properties in the Elmora section include:

  • The Carlton at 707 North Broad St.
  • 1263 Clinton Place
  • Edgar Gardens at 249 W. Jersey St.
  • Ivy Apartments at 147 W. Jersey St.
  • 132 Orchard St.
  • Cherry Hill Towers at 516 Cherry St.
Edgar Apartments in Elizabeth (ApartmentLiving.com)

The lawsuit alleges that since at least 2005 until last year, Centanni engaged in “severe or pervasive sexual harassment” that included demanding oral sex in exchange for helping residents stay in their housing or receive rent assistance.

Authorities also allege that he threatened to evict tenants who rejected his advances and also demanded sexual favors from prospective tenants.

Ivy Apartments in Elizabeth (ForRent.com)

Last year, the complaint said, he brought a female tenant who had approached him about difficulty paying rent to an empty apartment, where he exposed himself and asked her what she would do for him in exchange.

The complaint said he asked her for a massage and then forced her hands onto his penis and testicles as she told him "no" and "don't do that."

Also last year, a tenant who asked if she could stay in her apartment past her move-out date because she was having a hard time finding a new place, was taken to an empty storage room where Centanni exposed himself and asked for oral sex.

"How bad do you want your apartment?" he asked her, the complaint says.

"Because she felt like she had no choice, the tenant submitted to Centanni’s sexual demand," federal attorneys said.

About 2017, he's accused of taking a prospective tenant to an empty laundry room where he asked her: “If I give you an apartment, what will you do for me?” and “When I call on you, it’s a favor for a favor.”

When the woman didn't respond, the complaint says, he was more blunt: “I want you to go down on me.”

The complaint said the woman refused to submit to his demand and she did not get an apartment.

The Department of Justice conducted the investigation in concert with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The lawsuit alleges Centanni violated the Fair Housing Act and seeks unspecified civil penalties as well as monetary compensation for victims.

A message seeking comment was left Wednesday by The Associated Press with an attorney representing Centanni.

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